I was reading a friend in LA’s Facebook post today. He was asking when this trend started that you box your own food at a restaurant. And it’s a very good question for many reasons.
Overseas readers, a little fill in here. In Los Angeles, even in the chicest of restaurants, when you have finished your meal and you have leftovers, rather than sending them to the kitchen to be put into a takeaway container they bring the containers to the table and you do it yourself.
This is one of the weirdest things I have ever seen on many levels. Before we get to the boxing itself, a few notes here.
One, there is a cut off point that you get to with restaurants where you don’t take your leftovers away. The local Mexican down the road? Sure. The $100 a head place where it’s all fine dining? Absolutely not. And in between there is a lot of grey. But in LA it seems that people think this is pretty normal wherever they eat.
Scraping food off a plate into a cardboard box at your own table is the fastest way to make yourself look like a scullery maid in a $1000 outfit.
Two, the portions in America are gargantuan. A plate lands in front of you and you are immediately rendered a fork wielding David vs the Goliath of gastronomy staring you down. Most people can’t finish it. So why not make them smaller and charge less?
Three, at the risk of being called precious, I’m a major anti-leftovers guy. This is a major deal with me. Leftovers are the things that enter the fridge with good intentions and a week later are putting a strange smell in the milk. Even the day after Chinese is too far gone for me to think about it. I don’t know why but once it’s been delivered to my door, anything not eaten in the next hour is doomed.
I’m convinced that the second I turn my back, that Chinese food I ordered will turn into blue beef in green black and bean sauce. If I so much as look at it again, I will get a case of botulism that will make me wish I had the black plague instead.
I pull out the container. I stare at it. I tell myself that it’s fine.
Me: (to food) Are you going to kill me?
The Chinese Food says nothing. Just stays silent and ominous. I realize that I am losing this battle. I toss it in the trash. Then like all good kids raised in Australia, I hear my mother’s voice talking about the starving children in Africa.
So at the conclusion of a meal when people ask why I’m not boxing my food, I tell them that my psychic said I died of food poisoning in a previous life. This actually works in LA. People nod understandingly.
With all those caveats and irrational fears on the table, a return to the boxing of food in La-La.
I was out with a friend in a restaurant one night when she had her food boxed. The waiter brought some containers and lids and a plastic bag back to the table and she proceeded to shuffle it all into containers. This is not an easy thing to do on a small table already crowded with plates and wine glasses. It usually needs to involve using the extra chairs, the floor and every spare hand at the table.
Me: Hun, why don’t you have the kitchen do that for you?
Her: Oh, I always have to box my own leftovers.
Me: Is that an American thing?
Her: Yes, we don’t like other people touching our food.
This makes me blink a few times. If no one touched your food somewhere along the line, you’d be getting served a live cow.
Me: But you know they have to touch it to cook it.
Her: Oh sure, though I don’t really like to think about that part. But once it’s cooked, that’s it, no one but me.
Then she blinks a few times.
Her: That’s kind of weird isn’t it?
Me: No, I mean, not really.
I lied. Of course it’s weird. But you can’t make a woman in a nice dress at a restaurant feel weird about food. That’s not cool. It would also be not cool to tell her about all the years that I worked in restaurants and the stuff I saw that happens in kitchens. Let’s just say we all have a much higher tolerance for germs than we imagine.
So there it is, the great boxing debate. Let the kitchen do it for you, you’re being stupid. And let me take it home and wonder how it will murder me, because that’s not stupid at all.